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“Legions and Demons”

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					                                      “Legions and Demons”
                                           Mark 5:1-20

A sermon preached at
The Eliot Church of Newton UCC                                  The Rev. Dr. Nick Carter
Sunday October 14, 2007                  President of Andover Newton Theological School

I want to thank you for inviting me here today– especially Tony, Vincent, and Ginny for all their
help and encouragement. It is an honor to some to this historic church – one that has been such a
good friend to Andover Newton for so long. I also realize that you are “open and affirming
church,” but it is a true act of hospitality and courage to go so far out on a limb that you would
invite a Baptist preacher into your midst! [Insert story about Baptist evangelist – “Damned
Fool!”] So, being as open and affirming, intelligent and sophisticated as you are, I thought a
good “Baptist” sermon based on a text about demons, demon possession, and exorcisms would
be right up your alley…!

As Tony shared with you in his great recitation, Jesus and his disciples have just taken a little sail
across the Sea of Galilee to a small village in the eastern shore country of Gerasenes (in what is
modern day Syria). The scripture says that as soon as Jesus stepped foot on the shore a man who
was possessed of a strong and violent demon, and who had been living in a cave near the shore,
ran up and confronted Jesus saying, “What have you got to do with me, Jesus? Don‟t torment
me!” Jesus immediately engages this half-human being and asks for his name; to which the man
replies: “My name is Legion, for we are many.” In quick order Jesus exorcises the demons into a
herd of swine and as soon as this happens the herd runs headlong over the cliff and into the
ocean.

This is the plot of a great scary movie! I can see it now, maybe with Christopher Walken or Jack
Nicholson as the possessed man. In the hands of the right director it could rank right up there
with Dawn of the Dead or the Exorcist. Ah, but I digress….

Word quickly spread about this remarkable encounter and the villagers ran out to the shore to see
what was going on. They saw the man „clothed in his right mind‟ and fearfully begged Jesus to
leave. As Jesus was preparing to go the formerly possessed man approached Jesus and begged to
go with him. Jesus surprised the man when he refused and told him that what Jesus needed him
to do was to go home and give witness to God‟s mercy. --- Quite a story!

Quite a story! ------- Do you believe in demons?
The belief in Satan and his army of demons was well developed in Palestine at this time. As you
know, there are literally dozens of Biblical passages referring to demon possession. The Greek
word "daimon" suggests an inferior "deity" or evil spirit who has the supernatural ability to enter
the human body against our will and exercise control over it. Demons were believed to be the
same kind of spirit beings as angels but serve Satan in attempting to pull people away from God
rather than serve God.

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But as familiar as these images would have been to Mark‟s audience, there is something here
they understood even more clearly. They would know that this wasn‟t just a story of demonic
possession; it was a metaphor for something else. We see it easily when Jesus gets the possessed
man to utter his name: “My name is Legion,” he says, “for we are many.” My name is legion….

In 63 BC Pompey‟s armies occupied Palestine and after a 3 month siege invaded Jerusalem,
desecrating the Jewish temple in the process. In the 100 years of occupation that followed the
presence of the Roman armies was not only ubiquitous, but violent and much despised. They are
in the background (and occasionally the foreground) of every book of the New Testament from
Matthew to Revelations. Often Jews were forced to demonstrate their allegiance to Rome, and as
you know, it was also a question on which Jesus was repeatedly tested. Throughout Jesus‟
ministry and the 25 or 30 years following the discontent of the Jewish population over the
Roman occupation festered to the point that it broke into armed rebellion in the year 66. In 70
AD, however, the Roman legions brutally crushed the rebels and utterly destroyed the great
temple in Jerusalem. It is important to note that the Gospel of Mark, in which we find this story,
was written right about the time of the rebellion or in the years immediately preceding.

Thus, you see, when Mark narrates a story about a man who is possessed by a violent, terrorizing
and uncontrollable demon whose name is Legion there could be but one conclusion drawn: this
is a confrontation between the power of God and the oppressive power of the Roman Empire.
And, much to the delight of the hearers of the story, the legion is driven first into the unclean and
despised swine and then to their death in the ocean. Jesus‟ exorcism demonstrates that no matter
who occupies their lands or coerces them with violence or who oppresses their people, it is God
has the ultimate power and the eternal claim on their allegiance. That‟s the most important point
of this scripture lesson.

Being sophisticated, cool and savvy we don‟t think about demons much (other that when we are
driving on 128 or watching Eric Gagne pitch for the Red Sox in the late innings!). But as your
Baptist counselor this morning I want you to take a moment and do so. Are there demons in
your lives? Where do you see them? At first you may scoff at the idea – no scenes from the
Night of the Living Dead surround you, you say. But if you look carefully, you may see that
there may indeed be some who have invaded your world.

To be demonically possessed is to be occupied by an invader; it is to be controlled by forces that
are unwelcome, it is to be held in bondage and constant fear. Demonic possession is a power that
has consequences that we neither will nor cause. To be demonically possessed is to be captured
and oppressed by a violent and dehumanizing force.

Can you see the demons now? Can you name the legions? Perhaps you see them in the Middle
East? Or in a demon called AIDS? Or the twin demons of poverty and hunger? Can you see them
lurking in the dark caves called The War on Terror? Perhaps you can also see the insidious
demons of insignificance and frivolousness that creep into our daily lives, occupy our minds, and
anesthetize us from recognizing the work of other demons. I like to call it “Infoporn:” too much
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information about a world trapped in hyper-adolescence of sex, violence, excess, gambling,
drugs and sports. Surely Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are possessed. But the demonic is
also at work in the Pamela Anderson Conspiracies, the libido of McDreamy, the tawdriness of
reality television, the banal personality battles of Rosie and Donald Trump. Even our foreign
policy seems like it was designed by a couple of testosterone-blinded 14-year olds. What has
overcome us? One million children around the world are dying every month, more than a 1000
every hour of every day. What horrific and seemingly uncontrollable demon would have us
spending $300 million a day – over 2 billion a week – on the war in Iraq while these children
die? What demon has paralyzed us in such fear and suspicion that we can no longer control the
dehumanizing violence we do to each other? What demon has loosed its chains to terrorize our
sense of decency, rob our children, shame our nation and leave us morally paralyzed and
cowering in fear?

My good people, members of the Eliot Church; you who are called into being as the body of
Christ alive in the world; you who live on the shores of this occupied land; it is time to
begin confronting the demons that haunt us – that we name them, exorcise them and cast
them into the sea! As the embodiment of the Good News it is our calling to demonstrate that our
allegiance has not been co-opted or coerced and that we are in our right minds.

In order to do that we must recognize that the first demons we must exorcise are those that are
staring us in the face. The first of these demons is called complacency. We know all too well of
the scourge of war, scandal of illiterate and hungry children, and the trashing of our environment.
We know. O God, we know! The real issue is whether or not we can break free from the
possession of the demon of complacency and actually do something about these horrors. Every
time we study a subject, “raise awareness,” or pass another pronouncement and yet fail to truly
change the way we act, we show that we are still in the possession of the demon of complacency
and her many headed children called the hypocrisies. We need to be reminded more often of
God‟s words through Amos, saying “I hate your fasting. I reject your festivals, nor do I delight
in your solemn assemblies. Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-
flowing stream.” We‟re all too happy to study a subject and have a lecture series about an issue.
We can even be moved to make a donation. The trouble is, as my friend Bill Coffin once said;
“piecemeal charity will never bring about wholesale justice.” We must see the demons in our
own lives and remember Saint Augustine‟s counsel: “Never fight evil as if it were something that
arose totally outside of you.” We need to examine ourselves and ask what has such control over
us that we are afraid to act. -----You know what is the single largest threat to the church in the
21st century? Irrelevance. The greatest risk every church faces is that it ends up nurturing in its
membership a garden variety of faith that is neatly pruned, aesthetically pleasing, and politically
correct, but utterly useless out on the highways and byways of life. Faith needs to mean
something in people’s lives: it needs to be able to roll up its sleeves, get out onto the highways
and byways of life, get involved, and get a little dirty.

The other demon that is staring us in the face is a far more subtle one: It is our unspoken lack of
faith in the church as the vehicle for change. Too often these days, amid the cyclone of
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cynicism that is ravaging our country, amid the painful displays of the unworthiness of our
leadership, and amid the demonic and destructive preoccupation with issues of our sexuality, we
forget that the church is still the world’s most revolutionary institution. [REPEAT]

Churches are communities of people who have covenanted together because of their trust in
God‟s grace and their belief in the transformative love of Jesus Christ. There is no deeper source
of sustaining power than this. Beliefs are more powerful than any personal calculus of costs or
potential gains. The relationship that binds us together in a church is emotional and enduring, not
utilitarian and fleeting. No other institution on the face of the earth can do what a church can do.
Churches can overcome the powerlessness of separation. Churches are not market-driven: They
are free from dependence upon whether or not their products have economic value or even make
a profit! Churches are free to speak out and take action without fear. Churches, when they are at
their best, are counter-cultural and when they have come into their right minds they have shaped
the very character of this nation. Indeed, every major social movement in American history has
had its roots in the church. That‟s the very definition of discipleship – we are called to preach the
Good News to the poor, to the lame, to those who are imprisoned. We are called to tell all the
world that the Kingdom of God has come near.

As members of this church you are called by Jesus into a life of discipleship. Thus we should
remember that Jesus sent his disciples out to cure the sick, cleanse the lepers and to cast out
demons. Yes, you heard it right; he called us to cast out demons! He said that the pay is lousy
and there is no bag for our journey. He said we would encounter controversy and that we might
be betrayed and persecuted for our work. He said that he was sending us out like sheep in the
midst of wolves, so that we need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. But he also
said that we should go in courage and without fear, for through our faith we would endure. He
said “Take up your cross and follow me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those
who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This, my friends, is our calling. And it is the calling of this church.

Go ahead, you can do it! Cure the sick! Cleanse the lepers! And, yes, even cast out demons!
Demons are powerful, violent, oppressive and insidious. They are legion. But they are nothing in
the face of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

O you who have been exorcised, go home and give witness to the wideness God‟s mercy.

And while you‟re at it, cast out a few demons for me!

AMEN.




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